Norfolk work-out for Gladiator Wolf

RICHARD BATSON It's a familiar face that used to snarl out of the television on Saturday nights to millions of viewers.

RICHARD BATSON

It's a familiar face that used to snarl out of the television on Saturday nights to millions of viewers.

But fitness fans in north Norfolk are doing a double take as they find ex Gladiators star Wolf working out alongside them in their gym.

And they have nothing to fear. For the “bad guy” booed by fans is actually a friendly fellow, with a heart of gold, who has travelled half way around the world to help his dad move house.

Despite, or perhaps because of, his mean image, Michael van Wijk was one of the favourites in the hit TV show which drew 11 million viewers in its 1990s heydays, as the nation sat down to watch a prime time double bill of Gladiators and Blind Date.

He was renowned for his bad antics against fellow competitors and the referee amid the series of contests played out in a noisy colourful arena.

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Now retired aged 54 and living in New Zealand, he is visiting his father to undertake a different kind of physical challenge - shifting boxes - as the Dutch former sea captain sets sail on a house move from Brundall to Mundesley.

Beppo van Wijk has lived on the Broads since 1971 when a globe-trotting career on the ocean wave bought him to Norfolk to work with offshore rig and pipeline exploration.

“He is moving to Mundesley, into a specially-adapted house, to be near a friend,” said Michael. “I have been helping him, including clearing out the loft.”

The Wolf has been a regular visitor to his dad over the years, even after he moved from Kent to the other side of the world two years ago in search of a better place to bring up his family.

“I love England, but I was getting disillusioned. Having come back to find a child shot in Liverpool and three people killed in Bishop's Stortford I am sure I made the right decision,” said Michael, who now lives in Auckland with wife Paula and three children.

He fondly recalled his Gladiator days, alongside muscle-bound men with other exotic nicknames such as Ace, Cobra, Hunter and Shadow, and Amazonian women such as Flame, Jet, Siren and Zodiac.

But he is quick to point out his Mr Nasty image was all a façade to boost the entertainment value.

“When I won my place through auditions I had long hair and looked mean so they called me Wolf. The programme initially wanted us all to look nice like Donny Osmonds, but I asked to try the bad routine for one show, and everyone loved it.”

Michael, one of only two ever-presents during the show's run from 1992-1999, recalled tough days of filming sometimes three shows in a row, but says the former Gladiators do not keep in touch or hold reunions.

“I was in my 40s and much older than the rest who were in their 20s, and we have split up all over the world,” he said.

Nowadays the former bodybuilder, who had an acting career before he became a Gladiator, is still making TV appearances including a comedy sci-fi show being shown in Australia and New Zealand which sees him as a psycho killer who does one murder in a woman's pink dress!

He still works out five days a week, and is currently into Brazilian jiu-jitsu cage fighting, and during his spell in Norfolk has been training with local cage fighter Danny Cubitt at Rossi's gym at North Walsham, where he has become a popular VIP visitor.

But he quietly mingles with the locals rather than arriving to his old Gladiator signature tune of Wild Thing.

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